Ruxton snowplow sparring continues

David Townsend, Balto. County at odds over version of events

February 02, 2000|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Rather than melting with yesterday's warmer temperatures, the snowplow saga pitting the husband of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend against Baltimore County lingered yesterday, as county officials released a fact sheet that sharply contradicted David Townsend's version of events.

The two-page summary included assertions that David Townsend was told two years ago that the road he lives on was privately owned and would no longer be plowed. County officials also say Townsend threatened to wake up County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger if his road wasn't cleared.

Townsend, speaking publicly for the first time yesterday, denied receiving the letter, and said he never threatened anyone. Much of the county's version is not true, he said.

Townsend was shoveling his long driveway in Ruxton a few hours after the Super Bowl early Monday, and waved down a passing county truck to ask if his street would be cleared. County workers initially told him they could not plow because the road was not public.

No one agrees about much else.

David Townsend said that in the 16 years he has lived on Crosmorr Lane, he has always believed the road was maintained with taxpayer dollars. He said he learned for the first time early Monday that public works crews considered the road to be private.

But county officials released a letter yesterday that was written to the Townsends on Dec. 29, 1997, informing them the road was private. The letter was prompted by an inquiry about the status of Crosmorr Lane, the county said.

"Any roadway repairs, snow removal, etc. performed by the county were done in error," Robert J. Barrett, a special assistant to Ruppersberger, wrote. "Therefore, we need to bring to your attention that the county will no longer be providing these services."

Townsend said he never got the letter, and denies making an inquiry. He said yesterday his conversation with a county plow driver early Monday was friendly.

"I was sweaty, but I certainly wasn't angry," Townsend said. "I wanted the neighbors be able to get out."

County workers remember the brief conversation differently.

After asking to use the public works two-way radio, Townsend told a supervisor "that if he wasn't going to plow it, he needed to know, because he was going to call Dutch," said Tim Burgess, a superintendent monitoring the radio exchange. Burgess said he then instructed the driver to plow the street.

"It was 1: 30 in the morning," Burgess said. "I didn't want Dutch to get a phone call at 1: 30 in the morning. That was what I perceived to be a threat. Anytime somebody tells you they are going to call your boss, that's a threat."

Townsend said he referred to the county executive jokingly when he remarked: "I'm sure Dutch would like Kathleen to get to work."

County officials said Townsend's request was the second time in the last two weeks that they received such an inquiry. During the storm of Jan. 25, the head of the State Highway Administration called, saying the Townsends wanted their road cleared.

Michael Morrill, a spokesman for the lieutenant governor, said the inquiry did not originate from the Townsend family but from a state police driver who needs to use the roads.

As if the tale were not complicated enough, the two sides are arguing over whether Crosmorr Lane was plowed by the county.

Townsend and other neighbors say it never was.

During a reporter's visit on Monday, the street was covered with snow, and cars were getting stuck.

"If they had dropped the plow even 2 inches into what was 12 inches of snow, it would have left a mark, and I would have seen it," Townsend said.

County workers insist the plow driver made a single forward pass, then backed away. "I'd stake my life on it," Burgess said. "I know that driver pulled in there."

Evidence in that debate was pushed aside yesterday.

Townsend neighbor Sandy Hargrave called for a private plow to clear the road for guests arriving for her son's wedding this weekend.

The cost: $100.

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