Public service, private gain?

Anne Arundel: In Winer case, county executive must ensure integrity of planning process.

May 24, 1999

GOVERNMENT boards and commissions need citizen members with strong interest in their communities. It's easy to see why Odenton developer Jay Winer would appear ideal to sit on a panel responsible for shaping a community where he has deep roots.

His family owned the National Plastics Product Co. in the 1950s, predecessor of the Nevamar Corp. in Odenton. He has helped create projects with broad impact, including the Piney Orchard planned community and the Savage Mill restoration in Howard County. His background made him a logical choice to chair the Odenton Town Plan Oversight Committee, and to join two other Anne Arundel County panels.

But the developer crossed the line between public service and private enrichment if he used his post on the Odenton committee to recommend that the county buy property his real estate firm was selling. The transaction earned his company an $81,000 commission.

The property may be well suited to host a regional library and community college campus, as the former county administration intended. The 26 acres are near major roads and the Odenton MARC train station.

Unfortunately, Mr. Winer failed to recuse himself from discussions and a vote on the purchase. He should have. To make matters worse, he apparently cultivated interest of the library administrator in the property. The county bought it for $1.3 million in the waning days of then-County Executive John G. Gary's term.

County Executive Janet S. Owens spared no time deciding to delete the project from her capital budget. She set a strong tone early on by dismissing employees who she felt crossed ethical lines. She said she told Mr. Winer she was displeased by what she's read about the conflict. She must investigate herself -- and then act to ensure the integrity of the vital community planning process.

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