Lawyer's aid to developer scrutinized

Conflict of interest alleged for county official

Represented Delaware builder

Land condemnation effort linked to apartment plan

November 30, 2003|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

MARYSVILLE - Homeowners in this tiny community knew they had a fight on their hands as they took on the Cecil County government and an out-of-state developer to block the construction of a big apartment complex in their back yard.

What they didn't know was that the county attorney, until recently, also represented the company seeking to build the apartments.

Two county commissioners saw the lawyer's involvement in the project as a conflict of interest. One called it unethical. But the lawyer, Dwight E. Thomey, said that he didn't see any problem and that he had resigned from his position with the builder.

Chesapeake Ridge LLC of New Castle, Del., has proposed building 264 apartments and a clubhouse on a wooded lot at the end of Marysville Road near the exit ramp of Interstate 95.

In granting preliminary approval for the project in 1999, the county's Planning Commission required Chesapeake Ridge to widen and make other improvements to portions of Lums and Marysville roads leading to the apartment complex.

When homeowners resisted Chesapeake Ridge's offers to buy the needed parts of their yards, the county commissioners moved to condemn the properties and obtain the necessary easements through eminent-domain proceedings.

A legal motion filed Oct. 31 disclosed that Marysville residents received a letter in March 2001 telling them that the "purpose of the road improvements is to upgrade the road itself as well as the drainage along the road."

The letter went on to state, "If you choose not to execute the easement, the county will be required to initiate an eminent domain proceeding in order to have a court order that the easement be granted."

It was written on Cecil County government letterhead but came in a Chesapeake Ridge envelope with other information from the developer. Thomey, the attorney for Cecil County commissioners, signed the letter.

Thomey was serving as Chesapeake Ridge's resident agent in Maryland, according to court papers filed on behalf of 31 Marysville residents resisting the county's condemnation action. A resident agent is an in-state person who is designated to receive mailings and other information for an out-of-state company involved in a legal action.

Thomey's involvement with Chesapeake Ridge disturbed Commissioner Mark H. Guns, whose district includes Marysville.

"It is definitely a conflict of interest," Guns said. "I think it is unethical."

"This is not the way we are going to run county business as long as I am here," he said last week.

Contacted at his law office, Thomey denied having any association with Chesapeake Ridge. He said he had sent the company a resignation letter "in the recent past," ending his service as the company's agent.

He said he could not remember when that letter was mailed but guessed that it was during the summer or fall.

"I have no relationship with them," he said in a telephone interview. "I could care less what they do here. I don't care if they build an apartment complex or not. I don't represent them anymore."

Asked whether he thought his involvement with Chesapeake Ridge represented a conflict of interest, Thomey said he was not certain that he was county attorney when he represented the developer.

Phyllis Kilby, another of the county's five commissioners, said Thomey was named county attorney in 1998.

According to the Maryland State Department of Assessment and Taxation, Thomey served as the resident agent for Chesapeake Ridge from Oct. 3, 1998, until Nov. 5, 2003.

Kilby said she thought Thomey's role entailed a conflict of interest. She said sometimes things like this happen in less-populated regions such as Cecil County, where companies don't have a large number of lawyers to pick from when seeking an agent.

When asked whether Thomey's involvement with Chesapeake Ridge represented a conflict of interest, Commission President Nelson K. Bolender said, "I don't know. I can't remember if he ever told us he was representing the developer."

Alfred C. Wein Jr., the county administrator, said Thomey disclosed his connection with Chesapeake Ridge "only in the past week or so." This would have been after it appeared in the court documents.

He said Thomey is a part-time contract worker for the county who is paid $90 an hour. The county's current budget includes $50,000 for Thomey's services.

Donna Nichols, director of the county's Department of Human Resources, said that Thomey, like other county employees, is required to file an ethics form each year.

Guns said he would investigate the proposed apartment complex, its effect on residents and the county's role in the project.

He said he would be taking the position that if the developer cannot reach an agreement with the Marysville homeowners on the purchase of their property, the project will not move forward.

"If the homeowners don't want to give up their land, that is their right," he said. "I won't support taking their property - no way."

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