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Queen Anne's politics becoming Wild Wild East
By DAVID ABRAMS, Staff Writer  The Capital July 16, 2006

It wasn't your typical suburban Fourth of July parade, as a county
commissioner waved from his float with a 330-pound hog by his side. 
A reporter jokingly asked him if the porker was named after a fellow
commissioner running against him in the September primary. He just smiled.

"That would be demeaning to the pig," quipped Squeaky Lofland, the
Sudlersville farmer who loaned him the animal.

This is not your usual staid political climate. It's the Wild Wild East of
Queen Anne's County.

At the other end of the Bay Bridge from Anne Arundel, the county is at the
crest of the next wave of growth and development.

Voters were so angry about decisions made in the past that they kicked the
commissioners out of office four years ago.

Now the growing pains of the county are again creating a pressure cooker
with five new lawmakers feeling the heat.

While the pace of development has been cut in half in the past four years,
there are plenty of signs that the pressure is still on.

The commissioners are reeling from their own mini version of Watergate's
infamous "18.5-minute" gap in Richard Nixon's Oval Office tapes, with
records of a roughly 30-minute meeting mysteriously disappearing.

The photo of the commissioners on the county's Web site is missing Mike
Koval, R-Chester, the lawmaker with the hog, because he refused to be
pictured with the other four members.

And commissioners are regularly getting into arguments that quickly turn
personal at public meetings.

"Every week there's another fight between two of the commissioners," said
Gene M. Ransom III of Grasonville, the only Democrat of the five
commissioners.

A nearly eight-year battle over Four Seasons, a development slated for the
little town of Chester, is at the center of debate.

If it ever gets out of court, the project is slated to include 930 houses,
420 apartments or condominiums and an 88-bed assisted-living facility.

Commissioners said nearly every decision they make is met with the threat of
lawsuits from developers on one side, and a backlash from citizens on the
other.

Four Seasons is one of five major projects slated for the future, and there
are a total of 89 developments large and small in the pipeline.

"People have property rights, and they're exercising their property rights,"
said Joe Cupani, R-Church Hill, president of the Board of County
Commissioners. "That's the problem we have."

The 30-minute gap

The growth problem is behind every controversy for the commissioners.
Everything is viewed through a super-political lens, and everyone is on
edge.

Take a recent development in the continuing saga of Four Seasons, for
example.

Queen Anne's County Circuit Court Judge John W. Sause Jr. ruled earlier this
year that the county had to re-submit maps of the property to correct errors
in designating environmentally protected areas.

When commissioners held a work session before signing off on the maps, Mr.
Cupani decided to keep the video camera turned off.

He now says he did that because he didn't think the work session would
interest the public. Commissioners were hearing from a consultant hired to
review the changes they made, and much of the discussion was technical.

Then the judge ordered the commissioners to produce a transcript of that
work session. The court reporter wasn't able to do it, because the audio
tape was too garbled. New microphones had just been installed the day of the
meeting.

Critics were suspicious, and cried foul.

The commissioners had to hire an ex-Secret Service agent to enhance the
tape, and sent it off to Wisconsin.

"It does sound like a conspiracy theory, a Nixon tapes thing, but it was
just a confluence of events," said County Administrator Paul Comfort.

The more famous 18.5-minute gap led to speculation that President Nixon had
ordered the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters.

In the case of Queen Anne's County, the tape was about 30 minutes long. The
judge currently is reviewing the transcript.

Election repeat?

Meanwhile, the election season is heating up. Just ask the "mayors" of Kent
Island, four guys who meet every morning at the McDonalds in Chester - just
a stone's throw from where Four Seasons would be built.

"The natives over here are so disgusted with development," said Clyde Wynne,
80, the apparent leader of the group, as he sipped coffee.

John T. McQueeney Jr., one of the three incumbents voted out last time, is
running for another term. He had to take two of his signs down because a
vandal wrote "Crook" across them recently.

It's a symptom of the conflict between what people want and what they need,
Mr. Wynne said.

"This county as a whole is totally opposed to growth, and there's no way it
can survive without growth," he said.

Fifteen people are challenging the sitting commissioners. A slate of people
running for the Republican Central Committee, a training ground for future
candidates, is called the "Queen Anne's Seven."

Mr. Wynne and his friends think there might be a repeat of the 2002 election
this year, with three incumbents in the most jeopardy.

Often when the board votes on an issue related to development, there is a
3-2 vote favoring the proposal.

Mr. Ransom and Mr. Koval vote against, while Mr. Cupani, Ben Cassell Jr.,
R-Stevensville and Dick Smith, R-Centreville, vote in favor.

To make things even more interesting, Mr. Cassell is running against Mr.
Koval in an effort to kick him off the board.

Mr. Cassell said the election is going to be about informing the voters
beyond the sound bites accusing him of favoring development.

Take Gibson's Grant, a pending project. Mr. Cassell said he ended up voting
for it, but that was after he opposed bigger proposals from the developer
that gradually came down from 750 units, to 450, to 270.

He's ready to counter the claim that he is pro-growth.

"I'm going to argue with that and say, 'Show me the massive development,'"
he said.

Mr. Ransom and Mr. Koval, he said, vote against everything. Meanwhile, the
threat of lawsuits always looms.

The previous commissioners signed a settlement agreement with the Four
Seasons developer that ties the hands of the current commission, Mr. Cassell
said.

"We're dealing with contract law, not growth stuff," he said, adding that
every attempt to hinder Four Seasons could be met with a $350,000 monthly
penalty.

Mr. Koval said the commissioners control the fate of Four Seasons, and have
had several opportunities to block it.

Critical mass

The tensions on the board are obvious. In its official photo, Mr. Koval is
absent.

"One thing legitimate business people can't put up with is lying," Mr.
Koval, a contractor, said in an interview when asked why he didn't pose for
the photo.

He said other commissioners claim to be fiscal conservatives tough on
development, but they don't act the way they portray themselves to the
voters.

Mr. Cassell said he had a falling out with Mr. Koval when they were both
members of the Kent Island Defense League.

Since then, Mr. Koval has accused board members of fraud to the Attorney
General's Office, and even said he contacted the FBI to investigate them.

But no agents have been knocking on Mr. Cassell's door, he said.

"It's just hard for me to take his statements seriously," Mr. Cassell said.

A meeting to discuss the county's budget last month - shown on a video
recording broadcast on county cable - illustrated the bad feelings between
commissioners.

Mr. Koval proposed cuts to pay for teacher pensions.

"In order to do one thing, you're going to have to cut from something else,"
he said. "So I don't find it very confusing. You may, because I can go down
and show you which departments to cut."

Mr. Cupani fired back.

"We sat here, and we cut expenses," he said. "Where were you? Where were you
when we were cutting expenses? You weren't here when we cut expenses."

Mr. Cupani moved on to let Mr. Ransom make his comments on the budget.

"Excuse me, I wasn't finished!" Mr. Koval said.

"You've got to show up and be here, that's all," Mr. Cupani continued.

"Well, let's see who's here next year," Mr. Koval responded. "That's all
we're going to worry about."

It came to be Mr. Ransom's turn to talk, and he thanked citizens for coming
to the meeting to comment on the budget.

"Being part of a community is a contact sport sometimes," he said, "as you
can see." 
 


qacc@qac.org  (mail to this address goes to all 5 Commissioners)

KIDL Web Guy Says:  Write to our Commissioners!  QAC Voter's Guide Lists Campaign Promises

 bcassell@qac.orggransom@qac.org  | mkoval@qac.org
jcupani@qac.org  |  rsmith@qac.org


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