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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Little Change Starts Big Fight

BERLIN — On the face of it, the update of the preface to the town standards appeared to be a borderline housekeeping issue but before it was over it had turned into a heated argument that revealed a deep mistrust by one council member and an outburst and full-fledged storming out by a member of the public.

The change to the town standards was intended to be a simple one. As it stands now if a builder needs to deviate from the printed standards in the case of a material being inadequate or flat out no longer produced they have to go before the town council. Examples given were the use of a particular water meter that is no longer in production or use of a small amount of concrete purchased by the bag rather than ordering a cement mixer for shoring up a small section of ditch.

At that meeting, the council will hear the endorsement or condemnation of the request from the town staff and town engineers. These requests are of the highly technical sense and end with the council accepting the recommendation of the town staff and engineers.

For practical purposes it is not always even possible to follow the directive. Town Administrator Tony Carson gave the example of the recently completed wastewater treatment plant saying that if the council was consulted on every change, the two year project would only be halfway to completion and costs would have spiraled out of control.

“When you design a project that is that complex there are going to be changes,” he said.

Moreover, the town pays the engineering company to render their decision on the site as well as at the council meeting essentially forcing the company to bill the town twice for the same evaluation.

But Councilwoman Lisa Hall smelled a rat. She accused Councilman Troy Purnell of being on the side of the developers while claiming she was on the side of the “ratepayers” and demnaded to know why he hadn’t recused himself. Although she could not produce a scenario where the town or neighbors might be jeopardized or maltreated — she continued to cite zoning and planning violations, which aren’t under the kind of exception proposed — she was undaunted in her effort to demonstrate that Purnell was using this staff proposed efficiency change to his own end. 

The vitriol spilled over into the crowd where an attendee stood up and accused Mayor Gee Williams, Purnell and Carson of conspiring together to do whatever they wanted. The man finished his accusation and stormed from the room.

Williams took issue with the accusation saying that multiple times each week he encourages people who want an exception to make their case to the council. He was visibly bothered by the notion that he wasn’t honest or fair with all applicants and vocal in his defense of both the town staff’s honesty as well as his own belief in acting in the town’s best interest.

Councilman Dean Burrell questioned Carson on the specifics of the plan, satisfying himself and most of the rest of the council that there was not much margin for abuse.

Town attorney David Gaskill put the matter most succinctly saying that if the town engineers were going to conspire with a developer to do something untoward, they didn’t need this legislation to act as a loophole. If the council worried that the relevant town staff, the town administrator and the town engineer were likely to conspire with a developer against the town it should also recognize that the preface to the town standards was the least of its problem.

The council agreed, with Hall voting in opposition, that in matters of technical exceptions a consensus between the town administrator the relevant town staff and the town engineers was sufficient. If any one of those parties disagrees, however, the exception can not be granted.

Councilwoman Paula Lynch briefly suggested adding the opportunity for a developer to appeal a negative decision to the council but realized that if the council had only a negative recommendation from the people it employs to know about such matters, there would be no point in anyone appealing.

“I’m thankful that we’ve got something going on in this town just to apply these standards to,” Williams said.