Dirty ethics or dirty politics? Carroll County: Expulsion of board member reflects commissioners' political motives.

July 17, 1996

LAWYER Robert H. Lennon should have abstained from the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission's vote 16 hTC months ago to amend the water and sewer master plan because he had recently represented a property owner whose economic interests were affected.

A commission member since 1993, Mr. Lennon also should have declined to handle other small subdivision clients while on the board.

But the Westminster attorney should not have been expelled from the commission for these lapses of judgment. A censure and a public pledge by Mr. Lennon to avoid such potential conflicts of interest would have sufficed.

Instead, the Carroll County commissioners voted to oust Mr. Lennon for what W. Benjamin Brown called "a brazen violation" of the ethics law. In doing so, Mr. Brown and Richard T. Yates have again advanced their unabashed aim to politicize the appointed board, undermining its credibility and independence.

The ethics commission found Mr. Lennon violated the code by representing businesses regulated by the planning body. But it did not recommend his removal. Messrs. Yates and Brown are dedicated to slowing growth, and to control of the planning commission toward that end. They voted last year to increase the size of that panel from five to seven members, and have appointed the majority.

The arguments for controlled growth in Carroll are strong; we support much of that effort. We also vigorously oppose egregious violation of government ethics standards.

In this case, however, Mr. Lennon's legal practice was no secret; he had twice announced his abstention from commission questions because of his client. His development-friendly outlook was known. He has provided valuable guidance as the only lawyer on the board.

The expulsion decision also strains the county ethics code. Commission Chairman David Duree's recent conflict in promoting sewage treatment systems while deciding on related growth issues was resolved when he dropped clients after the matter came to public light.

Decisions of the part-time planning commission are of enormous consequence. They should reflect a balance of community interests, within the law. Having to act as puppets of the commissioners does not serve that end.

Pub Date: 7/17/96

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