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Officials, lawyer mum on lawsuit

Ingrid Mezo

Emmitsburg officials are keeping mum on the multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed against them last week by town Commissioner Art Elder.

The suit was filed against the three members of the town’s Ethics Commission, town commissioners, and Mayor James Hoover and Ethics Commission Chair Patrick T. ‘‘Ted" Brennan individually.

Commission President Chris Staiger said he and the other commissioners received a memo from Town Manger Dave Haller this week informing them to direct any questions regarding the lawsuit to him. The memo said that any statements town officials made regarding the lawsuit would have to be made by them as individual residents of the town rather than in their official capacities.

Haller is out of the office until after Jan. 1.

Aside from that memo, commissioners only briefly saw court records pertaining to the case, and have received the majority of their information about it from local newspapers, Staiger said.

Town officials have not yet met with the lawyer assigned to them by the Local Insurance Government Trust, Mayor James Hoover said Tuesday.

‘‘I am expecting that I will be called for a meeting in the very near future," Hoover said. ‘‘I don’t know if we will meet individually or as group."

Everyone who received a summons Dec. 5 has 20 days to respond, Hoover said.

While Hoover said he was not aware of any additional documents being filed with the circuit court, he said the town’s lawyer is now preparing a response to the summons.

‘‘I will stand by any actions I as an individual commissioner have taken," Staiger said. ‘‘... Most of this predates me anyway."

Both Staiger and Hoover said they did not think the lawsuit colored Monday’s town meeting in any way, but seemed somewhat unnerved with the way things were going on the board in general.

‘‘I think this board has gotten itself so buried in bureaucratic nonsense that we’re not being as effective or as efficient as we could be," Hoover said.

Commissioners Glenn Blanchard and Bill O’Neil could not be reached for comment by The Gazette’s press time Wednesday.

Commissioner Elder previously referred any questions regarding the lawsuit to his lawyer Rosemary McDermott, who refused to comment on the case when contacted by The Gazette Tuesday.

Monday night was the first time the town board met officially since Elder informed them of the suit.

During Monday’s town meeting board members kept a civil tone when speaking with each other, and chose their words carefully. They also referred the one action item on their agenda Monday night to the town’s attorney for review before voting on it.

Commissioner Blanchard said he hoped that town officials would be able to work together civilly in the coming year, and the importance of civility in politics was brought up again by resident Sister Eleanor Casey.

‘‘It seems to me that many members of the board are more interested in pursuing their private agendas than in addressing the needs of the town," Casey said.

Officials refer resolution on lake to town attorney

Also during Monday’s town meeting, town officials referred a resolution in favor of the Department of Natural Resources producing a resources management plan for land around Rainbow Lake to the town’s attorney.

The Rainbow Lake area has been targeted by outdoor enthusiasts as the site of a trail-building project for mountain bikers, hikers and equestrians, and the state department’s resource management plan is the next step in moving forward with the project. Commissioners Elder and O’Neil questioned the effect the trails would have on the town’s reservoir. Rainbow Lake supplies nearly half the town’s drinking water.

In addition, O’Neil questioned what the town’s liability would be for people who injured themselves while hiking on the trail, who would maintain the trails and what the cost to the town would be.

Haller told board members he would not support any trail project within 500 feet of Rainbow Lake, and that the town would almost certainly be liable for people who injured themselves on the trails. It would cost about $20,000 per year to maintain the trails, Haller said.

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