Attorney given back planning role Judge grants Lennon relief from ouster pending final hearing

No basis for removal

Ethics charges called irrelevant

Yates fears impact of ruling

August 23, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel circuit judge yesterday restored Westminster attorney Robert H. Lennon to Carroll County's Planning and Zoning Commission until Sept. 30, when he will decide whether to make the restoration permanent.

Judge Eugene M. Lerner said at the end of an hourlong hearing that the County Commissioners had no basis to remove Lennon from the planning board.

The County Commissioners, on a 2-1 vote, ousted Lennon July 15 after the county Ethics Commission deemed that the attorney had violated provisions of the county ethics law.

"This does not constitute a proper finding of fact by the commissioners of Carroll County," Judge Lerner said after reading aloud a letter in which Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates gave their rationale for removing Lennon from the seven-member board.

The hearing was held in Anne Arundel Circuit Court in Annapolis because those involved are well known in Carroll.

Lerner will hear Lennon's appeal of the Ethics Commission findings and his request for permanent restoration to the Planning Commission on Sept. 30. The judge said he was granting Lennon temporary restoration because he believes that the case for permanent restoration will succeed.

"I am very pleased, very gratified," said Lennon. "I have said all along that I wanted a system and a forum that is not political. That's what happened today."

Fair decision

Lennon and his supporters contend that his ouster was political. Brown and Yates were elected on a platform for slow growth, and Lennon, sitting on a panel where most issues were decided by a margin of one vote, often voted in favor of development.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who appointed Lennon to the board and sat through yesterday's proceedings, said: "The judge acted responsibly and issued a fair decision."

Brown said the commissioners have postponed a discussion of how to respond to the judge's ruling until Monday.

"I accept the court's temporary restraining order that Mr. Lennon is back on the planning commission and that the issues that were at stake yesterday are still at stake today," he said.

"I look forward to the outcome of the decision and any appeal that we might take."

Yates was worried about what role the Ethics Commission may have now.

"If they found him guilty and the courts found nothing wrong, what guidelines are they to follow in the future?" Yates asked.

After dispensing with the commissioners' ouster of Lennon yesterday, the judge picked apart the Ethics Commission's findings.

He called irrelevant a charge that Lennon represented landowners in obscure property transactions, noting that such transactions rarely come before the Planning Commission and that Lennon had agreed to discontinue the practice, anyway.

"It wasn't any big deal," the judge said.

"Everybody knew he was doing it. He wasn't doing anything behind anybody's back ."

Not malfeasance

Lerner said Lennon's decision to vote in March, after refraining from voting in December, in order to bring water and sewer service to a client and seven other land owners, may have been poor judgment, but not malfeasance.

The March vote was not on a new issue, but a ratification of what the commission had already agreed to in Lennon's absence, the judge said.

Under state law, inefficiency, neglect of duty and malfeasance are the only conditions for which a planning commission member may be removed from office.

Paul T. Cuzmanes, a Baltimore attorney representing Carroll County, argued that restoring Lennon to the Planning Commission would be "detrimental to the public interest."

But Lerner disagreed.

"The public interest is in seeing that every person gets a fair shake," he said.

Pub Date: 8/23/96

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