Board expels lawyer from zoning panel Commissioners oust Lennon after charge of ethics violations

2-1 vote called 'witch hunt'

His backers see politically motivated personal vendetta

July 16, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

A divided Board of County Commissioners expelled Westminster attorney Robert H. Lennon from the Planning and Zoning Commission yesterday, saying he had violated the county ethics law.

Lennon's supporters said the expulsion amounted to a personal vendetta and was part of a campaign by Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates -- who voted against Lennon -- to control the planning review panel.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who appointed Lennon to the planning commission, called yesterday's procedure a "witch hunt."

"I'm very disappointed," said Dell, who voted for Lennon. "It's like taking a license away for driving 51 miles an hour in a 50-mph zone, except that I don't think Bob is guilty of anything."

The Carroll County Ethics Commission, in a three-page opinion signed by two of its three members, said Lennon's legal work on behalf of owners of small lots on agricultural land violated two provisions of the county ethics law.

First, the commission said, Lennon was employed by a "business entity" regulated by the planning commission. Second, his employment gave rise "to a reasonable likelihood of an impairment of impartiality."

The Ethics Commission said Lennon "must refrain from such outside employment in the future," something he had agreed to do. It did not call for his resignation or expulsion from the planning commission.

The panel said Lennon helped a landowner get "off conveyances" allowing the owner to develop lots on his property. Several months later, Lennon proposed that water and sewer service be brought to the property and several others, the panel said.

Lennon told the commissioners yesterday that he absented himself from the vote and the deliberations when the water and sewer matter first came up in December 1994. But when it came up again March 21, 1995, he said, he no longer represented the client.

The panel said Lennon should not accept such clients while serving on the commission.

Lennon's attorney, Richard C. Murray, challenged the Ethics Commission's findings in a meeting that lasted nearly two hours, but his arguments and testimony from a half-dozen Lennon supporters and planning commission member Robin M. Frazier did not dissuade Brown and Yates.

"We live in a nation of laws," Yates said. "I am very much troubled by a violation of the ethics ordinance. I have to agree what is presented here by Commissioner Brown," who moved that Lennon be removed.

Lennon's supporters were outraged by the 2-1 vote, saying it was politically motivated and resulted from his having voted to approve many subdivision plans opposed by Yates and Brown.

"This is the culmination of a whole sequence of events that

began a year and a half ago," said state Sen. Larry E. Haines. "It is a petty challenge against an individual of excellent reputation and credibility in our community. It appears to me two of the commissioners had a personal vendetta and wanted him removed."

Frazier, who appeared as a character witness for Lennon, said, "I am outraged by the whole situation. It is awful to take someone with a good reputation and make it appear they did something they didn't."

Like Haines, Frazier saw Lennon's removal as an attempt by Yates and Brown to gain control of the planning commission.

"The only person on the commission [now] that they didn't appoint is me," Frazier said. "They have politicized what should be an impartial, unbiased body."

Lennon also accused the commissioners of politicizing the process.

"What you are in the process of witnessing today is a blatant attempt by some to politicize the Carroll County Ethics Commission process -- to diminish its independence and to manipulate its status and authority into a personal tool to be used to vindictively stifle the dissent of those who wish to debate the merits of another's agenda," he said.

"Apparently unsatisfied to date with the results of packing the planning commission last year," Brown and Yates have disregarded "any semblance of due process," Lennon said.

Pub Date: 7/16/96

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