Council tries to fight rezoning based on fraudulent approval
by Jason Flanagan
The Baltimore Examiner
Annapolis (Map, News) - Anne Arundel County Councilman Jamie Benoit said he could use lies and false documents to get the county to rezone his property, and if successful, that decision could not be reversed.
“It’s a weakness in the code, and I’m very puzzled by it,” said Benoit, D-District 4.
That is why he and Council Chairwoman Cathy Vitale, R-District 5, drafted a bill allowing the administrative hearing officer to reverse his or her decision on rezoning cases if fraudulent information was used.
The administrative hearing officer can grant special exceptions, variances and the rezoning of property.
While the officer can rescind decisions on special exceptions and variances, he or she cannot do so on rezoning decision.
Benoit said a developer may want his property rezoned for a high density and could submit a fake letter of approval from a civic organization to win the zoning change.
“It’s the one place being under oath had no consequences,” Vitale said.
The law did grant the hearing officer such authority, but code revisions two years ago inadvertently left out this particular power, said Steve LeGendre, the county’s administrative hearing officer.
Such cases where the hearing officer overturns a decision are rare — about one a year — LeGendre said.
But officials say the more controls, the better for residents who may be affected by misdeeds.
“This should discourage anyone from wanting to misrepresent themselves, even though they are required to testify under oath,” LeGendre said.
County Executive John R. Leopold would not comment on the bill, as he has yet to review it with his staff.
Benoit said some council members may want to make the bill retroactive, which he would support.
The bill is part of Benoit’s efforts to revise county law to make it more ethical and transparent.
He and Vitale introduced a bill last month that would make contracts with the county more public by publishing them on the county’s Web site.
Benoit is also drafting an ethics reform bill that is expected to be unveiled in late April or early May.
“I want to tighten up the code so our government provides transparency, participation and open conduct,” Benoit said.