Four board officials denounce attacks

January 05, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Four members of the county's Board of Appeals have denounced as "unwarranted, unsubstantiated attacks" another member's charge that they are little more than a rubber stamp for the administration of County Executive Robert R. Neall.

The four are Chairman F. George Deuringer, Vice Chairman John W. Boring and members Barbara M. Hale and Anthony LaMartina. They appeared before the County Council Monday night to rebut remarks made at a November council meeting by board member William C. Edmonston.

"It is unfortunate that a member of this board found it necessary to go public with his feelings and perceptions, which tend to needlessly undermine public confidence in the board," Mr. Deuringer told the council. "I say 'needlessly' because there is simply no basis for the allegations that were made."

In a letter submitted to the council at its Nov. 1 meeting, as it was considering a bill to amend the board's rules and procedures, Mr. Edmonston charged "there is a rising sentiment [that] Anne Arundel County has a Board of Rubber Stamps rather than a Board of Appeals and I concur with this opinion."

"There presently exists a four-member 'committee' that seems to be making policy for the board, deciding cases for the board, and in general has taken control of the board to the detriment of Anne Arundel County."

As a remedy, Mr. Edmonston asked the council to limit the term of chairman and vice chairman to six months.

Currently, the chairman and vice chairman serve at the pleasure of the board. Under his proposal, all seven members of the board would have an opportunity to serve as chairman and it would keep the board nonpolitical, he said.

Mr. Edmonston's letter was also signed by board member Joseph Johnson.

The council, which approved the appeals board bill Monday night, did not change the terms.

Mr. Deuringer said Mr. Edmonston's allegations were especially disturbing because they called into question the integrity of the board, which must avoid even the appearance of favoritism because of the stakes involved in the cases it decides. The board hears appeals on the administrative decisions made by county officials.

"None of the board members have any stake in whether the county prevails in an appeal," Mr. Deuringer said. "The law gives the board total immunity from external pressure, and this includes any arm of county government. Members of this board are beholden to nobody, only the law."

As evidence, Mr. Deuringer noted that Mr. Edmonston voted with the majority, "this so-called political bloc," in 21 of 25 most recently decided cases.

Mr. Edmonston yesterday stood by his charges. "The only statistics they gave you are the statistics since I raised the issue last fall," he said yesterday, suggesting the other four members had modified the way they voted.

Mr. Deuringer was joined at Monday night's meeting by the other three members named in Mr. Edmonston's letter. The seventh board member, David Schaefer, is not involved in the dispute.

Mr. Boring said that the trouble began while Mr. Edmonston was on a trip to England in June 1991, when he called the appeals board office and told a staff member that if he was not elected board chairman, "all hell would break loose."

Since then, Mr. Boring said, Mr. Edmonston has made several accusations against other board members that "have been proven to be without merit."

Ms. Hale said the board has had an outstanding record of being upheld when its decisions were appealed to the Circuit Court.

"No member in the four years I have served . . . has ever attempted to influence my vote in any case before the board," she said.

Since the start of the current board's term in 1991, the Circuit Court has upheld its decisions in nine out of nine cases, Mr. Deuringer said.

That term expires next year.

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