Is Dannelly a martyr or an opportunitst?

Comment

February 20, 2000|By MIKE BURNS

I DONT blame Grant S. Dannelly for his philippic against the county government and its lack of growth-control commitment.

Many of us would have done the same thing, stung by official rebuke from the Ethics Commission and the termination of his service on the county Planning and Zoning Commission.

It may have been technically out of order, but personal remarks of members have long been tolerated by these bodies of citizen volunteers. Especially when the remarks constitute a farewell message.

But I dont agree with what Mr. Dannelly said, particularly his claim that the ethics findings were biased because he was a controlled-growth advocate.

Nor do I condone his action as commission member in approving plans for a road to be built through his property. He didnt admit ownership until after the disclosure by others.

In fact, Mr. Dannelly should have resigned from the body before this, to demonstrate that his personal interests were not as important as the future of land use in Carroll County.

As well as anyone, Mr. Dannelly should have understood the negative, wrenching effect of lingering ethical questions about members on the effectiveness of the countys primary planning board.

Mobilizing the support of his slow-growth allies on the planning body, he fought to keep his position until the county commissioners refused to reappoint him last week -- and asked him to resign a day before his last official meeting last Tuesday.

A few years earlier, Robert Lennon was ousted from the commission for ethics violations. But he was reinstated by court appeal, served a few more months and then resigned.

Seven months after his resignation, Marylands Court of Special Appeals ruled that his ouster had been justified.

The turmoil and tension in that prolonged process was damaging to the commission and to the countys planning activities.

Mr. Dannelly served during that period, in the camp of those commission members opposed to the pro-development stance of Mr. Lennon.

Mr. Lennon was accused of formerly representing landowners whose applications for development approval later came before the commission; he did not recuse himself.

About the same time, commission chairman David Duree was questioned about operating a waste treatment business that could affect communities seeking zoning changes. No formal charge was made; Mr. Duree himself asked the ethics commission for advice. No advice was given by the panel and Mr. Duree continued to serve until later resigning for unrelated reasons.

The Lennon case was one of the bitter battles fought in those years between the forces of slow-growth and those of pro-growth. Mr. Dannelly had taken sides. He well knew the adage about living in glass houses.

The Duree incident further demonstrated that even the hint of conflict is something that planning commission members must openly resolve.

Members have to disclose their possible interest in a commission matter and avoid voting or acting on behalf of that interest.

To claim that he forgot about property he had directly purchased, as Mr. Dannelly explained, indicates a defective understanding of the planning commissions charter as well as its history in the past five years he served on that body.

Its not helpful to examine the technical quibbles raised by Mr. Dannelly and the county officials who wanted him off the board. Suffice it to say that Mr. Dannelly did not meet with the ethics panel and denied that he had been legally accused of violations, which have been public knowledge for many months.

As for the request that he step down before his last official meeting, it was a way for the commissioners to say that they took action on the Ethics Commission finding, and didnt simply wait for Mr. Dannellys term to expire. Mr. Dannelly can say he resisted political pressure, and served his term to completion.

Over the past few years, it has become harder to find citizens who want to serve on the embattled planning commission. People who are appointed often find reasons to resign before their term ends: The seven-member commission now has two vacancies.

Some members find the demands of meetings (and preparation for cases) take too much of their time. Some choose to run for elected office. Others are just fed up with the system.

All the more reason for those who choose to stick with that demanding civic service to be extra scrupulous in their conduct.

The political argument about growth and growth management in Carroll County continues to inflame citizen passion as does no other issue. Those appointed to the planning commission and to the zoning appeals board will be scrutinized carefully by all sides.

The makeup of the planning body is determined by the politics of the elected county commissioners, who appoint the commission. So theres no doubt that Mr. Dannelly found himself at odds with a majority of the three current county commissioners. He probably wouldnt have been reappointed in any case.

Its his posturing as a martyr for slow-growth in the ethics case that doesnt relate to reality, political or otherwise.

Mike Burns writes editorials for The Sun from Carroll County.

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