Owens files complaints against 2 ex-workers

Executive claims leaders of lawsuit on impact fees violated county ethics laws

Anne Arundel

September 01, 2004|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens has taken the unusual step of filing ethics complaints against two former county employees who are leading a multimillion-dollar lawsuit alleging that the county misspent money it collected through developer fees.

The complaint names former county attorney Phillip F. Scheibe, who represents homeowners seeking more than $30 million in fee refunds, and former planning director Robert J. Dvorak, who has helped the homeowners examine county records for examples of improper spending.

"While employed by the County, both Mr. Scheibe and Mr. Dvorak participated significantly in the matters that are the subject of the litigation, and both had information not generally available to the public when they undertook the assistance and representation of the plaintiffs," Owens wrote in her complaint, which Dvorak said he and Scheibe received about a month ago.

County ethics laws prohibit former employees from representing anyone on matters in which they had substantial responsibility while with the county, and from using confidential information to assist others. If a former employee violates the policy, the county's Ethics Commission can seek a court-imposed fine of $1,000.

But Scheibe and Dvorak have denied any such conflict, saying any discussions they had about the fees while employed by the county were unrelated to the issues raised in the lawsuit.

"All the information used in the suit is public," Dvorak said. "They can't refute the numbers, so they're coming after the messengers now."

Why now?

Scheibe questioned why Owens is complaining now, when he has been pursuing the fee case for more than three years. He and Dvorak, who left county jobs in the late 1990s, have said they held high positions that did not directly oversee the use of impact fee revenues.

"The fact of the matter is I didn't have any involvement with [the fees]," Scheibe said.

It is unusual for the county executive, who appoints the Ethics Commission, to file ethics complaints, though nothing in the ethics code prohibits it.

"I was with the county 23 years, and I don't remember any county executive ever filing any complaint against anyone," Dvorak said. "It's crazy."

The county executive declined comment yesterday.

Scheibe said he is reluctant to go before a panel that was appointed by Owens. "It sounds a little unfair," he said. He added that his attorney has appealed the commission's request for some privileged documents related to the fee case.

By policy, members of the Ethics Commission do not discuss investigations or requests for investigations.

Scheibe's lawsuit, filed in 2001, says that more than $30 million should be refunded to homeowners across the county. Scheibe has said he represents 25,000 homeowners whose houses were assessed impact fees.

The county spent the fees on infrastructure such as schools and roads. But the lawsuit alleges that some money was not used to benefit those who paid it; that portable classrooms were not an acceptable impact fee expenditure; and that money was not spent during the allotted time.

Thousands in fees

The county began charging developers - and, indirectly, homeowners - for growth-related infrastructure in 1987 and now charges more than $4,000 in fees for a single-family home.

After the fees were established, Dvorak held various county posts, including planning director from 1993 to 1994 and chief administrative officer from 1994 until his retirement in 1997. Some of the spending targeted by Scheibe's suit occurred under Dvorak's watch, though Dvorak has said he was not directly involved.

Scheibe served as county attorney from 1994 to 1999.

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