Pay may stop to planning alternate Dell says proposal is not retribution

April 11, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

County Commissioner Donald I. Dell wants the county to quit paying a planning commission member who attended a meeting last month organized by community activists who plan to oppose Dell and Commissioner Richard T. Yates in the 1998 election.

Dell said his proposal to halt payments to the alternate member of the county's planning and zoning panel is "an equity issue."

But he is sure many people will view the move as political retribution for Deborah L. Ridgely's presence at a "Dump Dell-Yank Yates" dinner in Eldersburg on March 3.

"This has nothing to do with Debbie," Dell said yesterday.

On the contrary, he said, he has developed "a growing friendship" with Ridgely since she became an active participant in planning commission meetings. "I don't want to see that injured," Dell said.

Ridgely, a Finksburg resident, was named planning commission alternate late in August by Yates and Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown.

"I'm very surprised to hear that," said Ridgely, who returned home last night after a two-day absence. "My understanding is that the alternate has always been paid as other members. I feel I have put in as much effort and time as any other member."

Unlike alternates on other county boards and commissions, the planning commission alternate attends every session, takes part in every discussion and votes whenever a member is absent or chooses not to vote.

Like planning commission members, the alternate is paid $90 for each meeting attended.

A member who attends all meetings would be paid about $2,430 a year.

Ridgely said that it costs her money to attend daylong planning meetings because she must take a vacation day from her job as a claims manager for Liberty Mutual Insurance Co.

Paying the planning commission alternate amounts to preferential treatment, Dell said, because alternates on other county boards and commissions are paid only when attending meetings as substitutes for absent members.

"I instituted an increase in the per diem [pay] for planning commissioners two years ago," Dell said. "I want to see equity in all areas. I feel like all should be treated alike."

The only reason to have an alternate on any board or commission, Dell said, is to ensure that the panel would always have enough people present to conduct business.

But since Brown and Yates expanded the planning panel from five to seven members two years ago, finding a quorum is no longer a problem, Dell said.

The county would pay the alternate if a quorum were needed, but "I don't think they're going to have trouble getting four members" -- the legal minimum needed to conduct business at each meeting, Dell said.

Brown disagrees. The planning panel is unique in that "so many issues carry over" from one meeting to the next, Brown said.

It is "more important to have the planning alternate attend" each meeting than it would be for alternates on other county boards, he said.

Yates, too, says that the role of planning alternate is less crucial now that it once was, but he wants to check with other jurisdictions to see what they do before casting the swing vote.

Yates favors changing the role of the planning alternate, so that if a planning member chooses not to vote, the vote is recorded as an abstention, rather than having the alternate vote in the member's place, he said.

Also, planning alternates should be silent unless they substitute for a member who is absent, Yates said.

"They can listen and form an opinion," he said, "but they don't have cause to express their views unless they are required to vote."

Like Dell, Yates said the move to limit participation of the planning alternate is not retribution for Ridgely's attendance at the strategy meeting called by opponents of Dell and Yates.

"She told me she had no part in that," he said. "She and her husband both called me and told me they had no [advance] knowledge of the political overtones" surrounding the dinner. "I have no reason not to believe her."

Dell made the proposal yesterday as the commissioners met to make last-minute adjustments in a proposed $168 million operating budget and $46 million capital budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The commissioners will hold a public hearing on their budget proposals May 8. They plan to adopt the budget and set the property tax rate by the end of May.

Pub Date: 4/11/97

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