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Another ethics charge to be filed in Emmitsburg

Chris Patterson
The Gazette

(4/7) Fran Denmark of Buckeye Development said Wednesday that Buckeye will file an ethics complaint with the Town of Emmitsburg against town Commission President Bill O'Neil.

Project manager Denmark said Buckeye Development believes O'Neil should have recused himself from all discussions regarding issues in Pembrook Woods, which the company is developing, because O'Neil is a resident of the community.

O'Neil has argued against releasing the developer's "letters of credit," despite a recommendation by the Frederick County Planning Commission.

A letter of credit is a developer's promise to pay for and complete work on a specific project; if the work isn't done, the developer must give the town money to complete the project itself.

In the case of Pembrook Woods, the issue deals with swales, or grassy areas near homes created to provide water drainage.

Releasing a letter of credit would release a developer from any further responsibility.

"I believe O'Neil should have recused himself [from discussions about Pembrook Woods] because he's personally [and] he's monetarily involved," Denmark said. "He should not vote on the issue. He shouldn't even speak on the issue."

O'Neil said there is substantial legal case law to show that there is no conflict of interest. If his was the only home affected by the situation, then it would be a conflict of interest, he said, but the entire development is affected.

O'Neil said, with about 70 homes, Pembrook Woods represents about 10 percent of Emmitsburg's total population.

"As an elected representative, I must represent the entire population of Emmitsburg," he said. "...I refuse to not represent the concerns and interests of 10 percent of the town."

Denmark said the complaint from Buckeye will be a sworn statement, signed and notarized, detailing the issues. It will be submitted to the town "as soon as the mailman can deliver it," she said.

This is not the first tangle between Buckeye founder Ed Smariga and O'Neil.

O'Neil fought an annexation request from the company in 2004, founding an organization known as Citizens Organized to Preserve Emmitsburg (COPE).

Buckeye wanted to annex about 67 acres, called Silver Fancy Farm, into Emmitsburg to create a housing development.

The annexation, which had been approved by the town's board, was overturned in a referendum vote brought by O'Neil and other members of COPE.

O'Neil was elected in 2004 to the town's board of commissioners, and resigned from COPE at that time.

Later, O'Neil also opposed Buckeye's efforts to bring a sewage treatment plant to that site so it could be developed in the county. That effort also failed.

In recent weeks, O'Neil has argued against the release of the letters of credit and put on a demonstration to show the weaknesses of the swales in the community.

O'Neil responded to Buckeye's announcement by saying the problem most likely relates to the demonstrations he gave at town meetings, bringing in pounds of dirt and samples of pipes to Town Hall and demonstrating that the pipes used in the development cannot stand up to the weight of dirt.

O'Neil, said the timing of this complaint demonstrates its political nature.

The town's election is in three weeks and two members of COPE are seeking positions on the board. O'Neil is not up for re-election this year.

"We continue with the political vendetta," O'Neil said. "This is an election year and they are fighting me because I work to ensure the citizens of Emmitsburg get their fair share when dealing with developers in this town."

O'Neil is being investigated for two other ethics complaints from local businesses, which allege he and fellow Commissioner Elder have inappropriately used the authority of their positions to cause problems for a printing broker and a car wash in Emmitsburg.

Read other news stories related to the Emmitsburg Town Government