Government

Council reappoints most of appeals board

Of 3 criticized by environmental panel, only 1 not retained

By ERIN COX, Staff Writer
Capital Gazette Communications, Published 01/04/11

Despite a scathing rebuke from a state environmental panel, most members of the Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals were reappointed last night.

Only one of the six current members reapplying for a board seat was not retained. County Councilman Jerry Walker, R-Gambrills, said he'd already selected a candidate to replace Arnold McKechnie before the letter rebuking the board was sent to the County Council.

Margaret McHale, chairwoman of the Critical Area Commission, late last week told councilmen her staff members had encountered so many taunts and so much hostile behavior from the board that they have refused to testify before the panel for the past two years.

The Critical Area Commission oversees enforcement of the state's strictest environmental laws, which are aimed at limiting development near the sensitive shores of the Chesapeake Bay. The Board of Appeals reviews complaints about how development laws are applied to projects.

McHale relied on transcripts and recordings of Board of Appeals meetings from 2008 to lay out five pages of criticism of three board members.

While councilmen said the letter was cause for concern, they also said it did not raise enough worries to refuse board Chairman William Knight and member John Boring another term. The three other returning members - Doreen Strothman, Carroll Hicks and William Moulden - were not mentioned in the Critical Area Commission's letter.

But McKechnie was mentioned, and Walker picked former board member Jay Breitenbach to replace him. Breitenbach and Walker served together on the Republican State Central Committee of Anne Arundel County.

Walker said his decision had nothing to do with complaints from the environmental community.

"I just felt Mr. Breitenbach was a better candidate," Walker said. "I'd already made my choice."

Councilman John Grasso, R-Glen Burnie, picked real estate agent Robert Costa for a vacant spot on the board. Grasso, a landlord, said he knew Costa through mutual acquaintances and once bought a rental property through him.

Traditionally, each council member selects a person from his or her district. The council members unanimously approved their colleagues' choices last night. The applicants were selected from an unusually large pool of more than two dozen candidates.

During their four-year terms, the board members will arbitrate county government decisions, ranging from zoning issues to grievances about overtime pay for county workers.

The members will be sworn in today, and will receive a $5,250 annual salary, plus $75 a day for each hearing or meeting they attend.

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(Revised January 2011)