Tangled interests Carroll County: Ethics board must address subtle conflict of planning board chairman.

April 01, 1996

SHOULD THE chairman of the Carroll County Planning Commission be voting on issues that might help advance his private business interests? More specifically, should he be deciding on land-use reclassifications that would make more attractive an innovative sewage treatment technology his company sells?

As chairman of the county's Planning Commission and as principal of Innova Ltd., a company that markets alternative sewage treatment systems, David Duree may find himself presiding over meetings that put him in an untenable position -- ++ choosing between his business interests and the general interests of the county. Mr. Duree has said he is not troubled by the possible conflict and has promised to step aside if one of his clients seeks county approvals. To his credit, Mr. Duree at least recognizes the obvious problem and appears prepared to deal with it on the surface.

However, he and top county officials refuse to acknowledge a more subtle conflict of interest that also needs to be addressed. Using the sewage treatment technology Mr. Duree markets, land fTC capable of supporting very few residents can be transformed into land that can sustain a higher density. And Mr. Duree chairs the government body charged with the responsibility for determining land use.

Mr. Duree's potential conflict is more than hypothetical. His company has been instrumental in creating an alternative sewage treatment system for the residents of Lineboro, a picturesque unincorporated town with failing septic systems. Intense development in the village, perched just south of the Mason-Dixon Line in Carroll's northeast corner, has been impossible due to poor soil. However, if Mr. Duree's technology is successful in handling greater amounts of wastewater, greater development in Lineboro might be possible. And Mr. Duree leads the government body responsible for changing the planning maps to make this happen.

Mr. Duree should not be the person dealing with his potential conflicts. Instead, the county's Ethics Commission should draw up clear guidelines to ensure that Mr. Duree's business interests do not pose a conflict. Ignoring this problem will ultimately cast a cloud over decisions of Carroll's planning commission.

Pub Date: 4/01/96

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