Officials ask Dannelly to resign post 'Insensitive' remarks allegedly made by planning unit member

Charges called 'baseless'

Commissioner Brown criticizes 2 colleagues for closed-door probe

December 09, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

County Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates asked a county planning commission member to resign yesterday because of allegedly "insensitive" remarks made about Asians and the elderly two months ago in Eldersburg.

The commissioners issued a six-page press statement giving their rationale for asking Grant S. Dannelly of Marriottsville to step down, but did not repeat the remarks Dannelly allegedly made Oct. 18.

Dell called the omission "an oversight."

"I understand that he [referred to a home for Alzheimer's patients] as a place where you meet a new friend one day and come back the next and meet the same person again," Dell said. "He also said something about Asians showing up [at a public spring in Eldersburg] and his having to wait in line to collect water."

Dannelly, a one-time political ally of Yates, called the charges "baseless."

The commissioners cannot force his resignation, and he will not do it on his own, he said. "There are no grounds for me to resign, and I do not intend to resign," Dannelly said.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown called the findings of his colleagues and the closed-door method they used to reach those findings "an outrage."

The appropriate thing, Brown said, would have been for the county ethics commission to investigate the charges brought against Dannelly by the president of the Carroll County Landowners Association.

Association President Edward Primoff -- whose land use views differ from Dannelly's -- sought to have the commissioners fire Dannelly on Oct. 21.

Dannelly made "shocking, insensitive statements and jokes about the people afflicted with Alzheimer's disease" and insulted "the entire Asian community" by the things he said at a weekend planning conference, Primoff told the planning commission.

Closed-door interviews

Dell and Yates chose to investigate the Dannelly allegations in closed-door interviews on Nov. 24 with people who had attended the conference where Donnelly allegedly made the comments. They did not turn the issue over to the ethics commission because it has no jurisdiction in the matter, Yates and Dell said.

"The uttering of the alleged remarks in no way violates the [county ethics] ordinance," because the ordinance does not "proscribe a public officials from making comments which may be offensive or insensitive," the commissioners said.

They conducted their investigation privately, Dell and Yates said, "in deference to Mr. Dannelly and to the individuals who had knowledge of the incident."

But Brown said Dannelly had asked to have the investigation made public.

Asked for open meeting

"It is very curious that Mr. Dannelly was demanding that it be open," yet the commissioners closed it, Brown said. "Clearly, they were in no way protecting him. It is the worst possible way of conducting a hearing for a person about whom accusations have been brought. I am outraged that my fellow commissioners chose to go where no one with common sense should go."

Planning commission Vice Chairman Deborah L. Ridgely of Finksburg -- who is closely allied with Dannelly on the planning panel -- also said the ethics commission was the proper place to hear the accusations.

"It would have been better handled by having it reviewed by the ethics commission," she said. "Grant was not allowed to face his accusers because of the way this was handled."

The commissioners said Dannelly refused to meet with them privately to "justify his position," telling them they had no jurisdiction in the matter because he attended the conference as a private citizen and not as a member of the planning commission.

Dell and Yates disagreed, saying anyone appointed to "this prestigious and responsible commission" should display respect for the position at all times and "should not make such insensitive remarks."

Although a few of the people they interviewed said Dannelly's remarks were "his attempt at a joke," the "overwhelming majority indicated that their interpretation was that the remarks were indeed offensive, insensitive and or cruel, mean spirited and bigoted," the commissioners said.

Ridgely, who attended the Oct. 18 planning conference and was present when Dannelly uttered the remarks, said his words had been "taken out of context, totally misconstrued, and blown all out of proportion."

The complaints were made by "individuals who want to see Grant off the commission -- people who have something to gain by it," Ridgely said. "I don't feel he did anything wrong. A resignation would confirm their findings. If he agrees [that he did nothing wrong], he will not resign."

Pub Date: 12/09/97

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