County officials discuss opening Two commissioners interviewed 3 before planning seat opened

Brown and Yates involved

Critics accuse them of seeking to oust Lennon from panel

July 21, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Two county commissioners were interviewing candidates for the Planning and Zoning Commission more than a month before a Westminster attorney was ousted from that board.

The candidates said they believe Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates were interviewing them for a vacancy that will occur on the seven-member board when Zeno M. Fisher Jr. concludes a five-year term Nov 1.

But supporters of ousted planning commission member Robert H. Lennon contend the timing of the interviews indicates that Brown and Yates planned to remove Lennon long before the County Commissioners voted Monday to oust him from the commission, saying he had violated the county's ethics law.

Yates denied the charge, saying, "The three people I interviewed were for Fisher's job."

He called the timing coincidental and said he didn't decide to vote to expel Lennon until after studying an opinion issued by the county's Ethics Commission at a hearing July 15.

Brown, who is recovering from quadruple heart bypass surgery, was unavailable for comment.

The two commissioners voted to expel Lennon after receiving an Ethics Commission opinion that the attorney's legal work on behalf of owners of small lots on agricultural lands violated the ethics law.

The ethics panel did not recommend expulsion. It said only that Lennon "must refrain" from doing that type of legal work for Carroll clients during the remainder of his term, which would have expired Nov. 1, 1998.

Lennon told the commissioners he did not believe he had broken the law, but agreed to the conditions.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who appointed Lennon to the planning board and voted against his ouster, said the expulsion concluded a political "witch hunt" that began a year ago.

"The other commissioners didn't like the fact that an attorney was on the board," Dell said.

Critics have charged that Yates and Brown, who sought office on slow-growth platforms, wanted Lennon removed because he often voted to approve subdivision plans.

Dell, who was not included in the interviews with the three candidates, said he would like to have a hand in choosing Lennon's successor, but doubted he would be consulted.

Yates said no decision on replacing either Lennon or Fisher will be made until Brown can participate.

"There's no rush," he said.

The candidates are Deborah Ridgely of Finksburg, Wayne B. Schuster of Eldersburg and Melvin E. Baile Jr. of New Windsor.

Schuster, a professional planner who worked for a fast-growing county outside Denver, said he and the other applicants are "victims of bad timing," who are unfortunately "lumped into a controversy we don't deserve to be lumped into."

"I believe I could serve the community well on the planning commission and that whenever there was an opening, I would be a good candidate," he said.

Ridgely, a team manager for Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., said she has been concerned about growth management and the future of the county for years.

She said it was important to have another woman on the commission. Robin M. Frazier of Manchester is the only woman on the panel.

"As a longtime resident of the northeast area, I thought maybe I could provide input from a different area," said Ridgely, who serves on one of four groups working with the county planners to draft a new master plan.

Baile, a crop farmer who also raises sheep and cattle, said he has not officially applied to fill a vacancy on the commission and may not do so.

He is chairman of the Agricultural Land Preservation Board, and also is a member of one of the groups helping draft a new master plan. He said his work there "may be the most effective way" he can participate in the county planning process.

"Agriculture is still the No. 1 industry in Carroll County, and it is important that there be someone who understands agriculture on the committee," he said. "If you can't preserve the land, you can't preserve the farmers."

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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