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Long and bitter feud in Emmitsburg ends

Jeremy Hauck
The Gazette

(11/15) The last domino in a long-running Emmitsburg business feud toppled over without a bang in September, when David B. and Donna Runkle dropped a lawsuit against former town commissioners William B. O’Neil Jr. and Arthur S. Elder and Elder’s cousin, Lisa Elder.

"The lawsuit brought by Mr. and Mrs. Runkle against me has been dismissed, with prejudice, and all parties in this matter have issued global releases," O’Neil said in an e-mail statement Monday. ‘‘I very much look forward to putting this matter behind me and have agreed not to seek costs and attorney's fees incurred as a result of defending the complaint."

The Runkles, who at various times owned and operated RyWest Inc., Chronicle Press Inc. and Custom Image Printing in Emmitsburg, sued O’Neil and the Elders in September 2006, claiming that the three conspired to make their printing businesses fail.

The Runkles, who no longer live in Emmitsburg, could not be reached for comment. Messages for the Runkles’ lawyers were not returned by The Gazette’s press time.

According to court documents, the Runkles bought Chronicle Press Inc. and its location, 107 S. Seton Ave., from Art Elder in 1999. Art Elder loaned the Runkles an unknown portion of the $750,000 price and agreed to continue running the business for 11 years.

However, according to the dropped lawsuit, Elder quit after less than a year. Chronicle Press folded in 2003, and Elder took the Runkles to court to get back nearly $600,000.

Fifteen months after it folded, Chronicle Press resumed business with the same equipment at the same location, but under Lisa Elder’s ownership.

The Runkles meanwhile declared bankruptcy and started Custom Image Printing in an Emmitsburg home.

Things began to get ugly once Elder, elected in 2003, and O’Neil, elected in 2004, had seats on Emmitsburg’s Board of Commissioners. All parties quickly came under investigation by different bodies.

The Runkles complained that the two then-commissioners were leaning on town code inspector Michael H. Lucas to aggressively inspect Custom Image Printing, to the benefit of Chronicle Press.

The complaint sparked the town’s first-ever ethics investigation of sitting commissioners, resulting six months later in the town finding that Elder and O’Neil had acted in an unethical manner.

The three-member Ethics Commission, led by Ted Brennan, whom Elder had defeated in the 2003 election, said in an eight-page report that O’Neil had violated the town’s ethics rules.

Elder then sued the town. That suit is expected to come before a Frederick County judge on a date to be determined, according to Elder’s attorney, Rosemary A. McDermott.

‘‘If we prevail we’re definitely going to ask for special relief," she said. ‘‘His name was really besmirched."

Art Elder declined to run for a second term on the board of commissioners in 2006, declaring that his first term in office ‘‘was the worst three years of my life."

O"Neil declined to run for a second term earlier this year.

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