Small town backs `sweep'

Crisfield voters oust mayor, 2 on council over no-bid, 6-year redevelopment deal

June 22, 2006|By CHRIS GUY | CHRIS GUY,SUN REPORTER

CRISFIELD -- Voters in this tiny Eastern Shore town ousted their longtime mayor and two City Council members yesterday, electing a slate that promised to scrap a deal that put a private firm in charge of redevelopment projects.

Many voters said they were angry that the council gave a no-bid, six-year contract to manage town development to a company run in part by a former legislator. Others said they were simply worried about change in a community once marked by seafood industry jobs and now struggling, even as new condominiums have gone up on the waterfront.

"I'm not thrilled with all the condos - I liked Crisfield the way it was," said Leighann Schoffstall, a 25-year-old preschool teacher, echoing the comments of others leaving the town's single polling place at City Hall yesterday.

With more than half of the 1,600 registered voters casting ballots in the nonpartisan election, the town chose Councilman Percy J. Purnell Jr. to be the new mayor, replacing veteran Mayor Richard Scott.

Raymond Anderson, Barry Dize and Kimberly Lawson won spots on the five-member council, ousting two incumbents and filling a third seat in which a councilwoman did not seek re-election because of the dispute.

"I knew eight or nine months ago that this issue wasn't being handled correctly," Purnell said of city development efforts. "I knew if people had a chance to vote on it, they'd vote this way. You can't do contracts without bids."

Scott left City Hall as soon as the votes were counted.

At least 200 supporters of the reform effort cheered outside City Hall when the results were announced.

"It's a little sad to see some of the people who served the town for a long time lose," said Steve Marshall, chairman of the city planning commission, who supported the reformers. But he said the election's outcome was what Crisfield needed. "Change is a good thing for the city," he said.

With temperatures in the 90s, voters passed bright tents set up on the parking lot by Concerned Citizens of Crisfield, a coalition of business and civic leaders that backed the reform slate.

For weeks, the citizens group had billed this as a watershed election. Volunteers put up banners urging voters to support a "Clean Sweep." Others posted red-and-white banners that said "Democracy is Dead" in Crisfield.

Concern stemmed from a six-year agreement between the city of 2,700 and Crisfield Associates LLC. The firm is headed by Joseph J. Corrado Sr. and Charles A. McClenahan, a former Republican state delegate who represented Crisfield in Annapolis for 11 years.

Approved March 29 at a tense City Council meeting, the contract was billed as a public-private partnership. The company agreed to pay $600,000 for a study that would serve as a master plan for revitalizing the once-prosperous seafood town.

In return, the deal called for Crisfield Associates to manage redevelopment and said the company would get a share of profits from projects on city-owned property.

Purnell and the three incoming council members all said during the campaign that they would rescind the contract if elected.

chris.guy@baltsun.com

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