Ousted planner garners support 4 county lawmakers call on commissioners to reverse 2-1 vote

July 25, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Four of Carroll's six state legislators agreed yesterday to ask the County Commissioners to reinstate a Westminster lawyer who was expelled July 15 from the county Planning and Zoning Commission.

Sen. Larry E. Haines had hoped all six members would sign a letter asking the commissioners to return attorney Robert H. Lennon to the planning panel, thereby making it an official delegation request.

But Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson vehemently opposed the move, saying it would make the lawmakers look like a "paper tiger with no teeth."

Del. Ellen L. Willis, the only Democrat in the State House delegation, said that while she was "appalled" at the way Lennon was ousted, she felt the "proper course of action in this matter is [for Lennon] to seek redress in the courts."

Lennon was removed from the planning commission by a 2-1 vote of the County Commissioners last week after the county ethics commission ruled that he had violated the county ethics law.

Republicans W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates voted for the ouster. Republican Donald I. Dell, who appointed Lennon to the commission, voted against it.

The ethics panel said Lennon's legal work on behalf of owners of small lots on agricultural land and his vote on a water and sewer request involving a former client constituted "outside employment in violation [of the ethics law] and [gave] rise to a reasonable likelihood of an impairment of impartiality."

The ethics commission demanded that Lennon stop representing those types of clients -- which he agreed to do -- but did not recommend that he be removed from the commission.

Delegation members who attended the July 15 hearing in which Lennon challenged the findings, and his supporters attested to his good character, say they do not believe Lennon is guilty of anything.

Restoring him to the commission, they believe, is necessary to protect a reputation they say was sullied for political reasons.

'No unethical conduct'

"A lot of people say Bob Lennon was removed for unethical conduct when there was no unethical conduct," Haines told delegation members yesterday at a breakfast meeting.

"In my opinion, Bob Lennon was already prejudged," Haines said. "It was a done deal. He was going to be removed no matter what."

Members of the delegation generally agreed with that assessment, but disagreed about a course of action.

"Nobody's reputation is ruined more than Dick Yates or Ben Brown," Ferguson said, "but I don't think collectively the delegation should take action unless it relates to state law."

Willis agreed. "It appears there's a power struggle between the commissioners and the planning commission," she said. "I don't want to be part of that power struggle."

'Stacking' of panel seen

Haines continued to press for delegation action, however, accusing Brown and Yates of "stacking the planning commission and stacking the Board of Zoning Appeals" with members likely to vote their slow-growth policy.

"If we don't take a public stand, what's next?" he asked.

Dels. Donald B. Elliott, Joseph M. Getty and Nancy R. Stocksdale agreed.

"I'm concerned about how difficult it may be to find people to serve on the commission and other things," Elliott said. "Who's going to want to serve if your reputation can be smeared?"

'Get on with planning'

Getty wanted the delegation to request that the ethics law be revised, to tell the commissioners that Lennon's character had been "unfairly called into question" by a flawed process, and to ask them to "reinstate Lennon for the rest of his term and get on with the business of the planning commission."

If the commissioners don't reinstate Lennon, they should explain the difference between his situation and that of planning commission Chairman David T. Duree, Getty said.

Duree, who is part-owner of a company that markets alternative sewage-treatment systems, has asked the ethics panel for advice regarding potential conflicts of interest. He has absented himself during discussions and votes relating to his business.

Following the course suggested by Haines and Getty would be to "open Pandora's box and set a terrible precedent," Ferguson said.

'An injustice'

Ferguson, who was the subject of an ethics inquiry last winter for soliciting campaign contributions while the legislature was in session, told the delegation, "I've been in witch hunts before.

"What [Brown and Yates] did was an injustice, but I'm telling you it will never end with these two commissioners. They're stubborn and would just drag us in further.

"Just because two commissioners are misbehaving, we don't want to be misbehaving with them," he said.

In a prepared statement after the meeting, Ferguson called on "all Republican leaders to avoid public infighting" until the primary election battles.

Pub Date: 7/25/96

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