Official target of ethics probe

Road would cross land owned by member of zoning commission

He calls it `oversight'

County attorney is investigating for possible violation

September 09, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Calling it a conflict of interest, members of the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission said yesterday that fellow member Grant S. Dannelly should not have supported a proposed road that would cross a piece of property he owns.

But some members were quick to defend him, saying they accepted his explanation that he forgot to tell the commission about the potential conflict. Dannelly is under investigation by the county attorney for a possible ethics violation.

"He should have recused himself," said Thomas Hiltz, a commission member. "I don't doubt that Grant's intentions are honorable. I think he kept the best interests of Carroll County at heart. But that doesn't mitigate the fact that he had a personal interest in it."

Deborah Ridgely, chairman of the planning commission, said she was "startled" to learn that Dannelly owned the property.

"Considering that we had discussion over several months and it had never been mentioned, I was totally surprised. I think the fact that he owned a piece of property should have been mentioned," she said, adding, "I can't be mad or upset if someone makes a mistake. We are all human. I have to accept his explanation."

Dannelly and his wife are one-third owners of a 0.27 acre parcel at the north end of Marriottsville Road No. 2, just south of its intersection with Ridge Road in the county's Freedom Area. The property lies in the path of a road first proposed in the 1977 Freedom Area Comprehensive Plan and proposed again in the updated Freedom Plan, approved by the planning commission in July. Dannelly helped write both versions of the plan. He was an alternate on a citizens advisory committee for the plan from 1975 to 1977, and a member of the planning commission since 1995.

Most planning commission members had no specific memories of Dannelly's asking that the road be included in the updated comprehensive plan.

Planning member Maurice "Ed" Wheatley said he recalled Dannelly's raising the issue of the road.

"Grant brought it up," he said. "He pushed it more than other members did."

Dannelly said he supported the proposed road, but no more than several other road improvements recommended in the Freedom Area Plan. The road -- which would relocate Ridge Road so that it connects to Marriottsville Road No. 2 farther south -- would help traffic flow in the Freedom Area, he said.

Dannelly bought the small parcel with his wife and two neighbors in 1976 for $750 to block a proposed dense development of single-family homes off Marriottsville Road No. 2.

Dannelly said he had no interest in trying to gain profit from the property. He forgot to tell his colleagues about the property, he said.

"It was an oversight. It was no different than getting in the car and forgetting [the] driver's license," he said.

The county commissioners have asked the county attorney's office to investigate a possible conflict of interest. The case will be decided on by the county ethics commission.

According to the county's ethics ordinance, county officials are not allowed to participate on behalf of the county in any matter in which they would have a direct financial interest. If asked to act on such an issue, county official are required to disclose potential conflicts.

Most planning commission members said they occasionally abstain from discussions and votes on issues because of a conflict or a fear that something might appear to be a conflict.

Wheatley said he excused himself from a matter involving Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. because he owns stock in the company.

Commission member Melvin Baile Jr. has recused himself from a rezoning discussion because his father rents land from the companies submitting the rezoning application.

Baile said he probably was not legally required to do so. "But I do," he said, "just to be on the safe side."

Ridgely often consults the county attorney's office before meetings to clear up any potential conflicts. Such inquiries were common, she said, when her husband, Neil, served as Hampstead's town manager.

During his four years on the planning commission, Dannelly said, he had recused himself from a vote once. A developer he once had a contract with to buy property owned by his mother was asking for the approval of the planning commission. He decided to abstain from the discussion and vote.

"That time I thought to do it. This time I didn't," Dannelly said. "Now, I'm paying the price for it."

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