Sunday, March 26, 2006

Trust who?

Things just got a little worse for Howard Community College this week.

In the long battle over the historic Belmont estate in Elkridge, the element of trust, or the lack of it, has been a major issue for community members opposing Howard Community College's plans for the property.

They got more fuel for their suspicions last week.

Despite previous assertions by college President Mary Ellen Duncan that builder Harry L. "Chip" Lundy contributed $1 million to the deal as a gift, Duncan and Lundy said this week it actually was part of a written agreement to develop senior housing at the 18th-century estate.

Duncan testified before the county's General Assembly delegation Feb. 8 that Lundy, a former college board member, gave the $1 million freely as a gift, with no strings attached, and had not asked for his money back.

Although the county is working on a plan to buy the estate from the college, which would eliminate the possibility of further development on the plan, HCC's standing in the community will surely take a hit. Poorly handling the public relations component of it's Belmont plan was one thing, but entering into a secret agreement with a developer -- while publicly maintaining such an agreement didn't exist -- is borderline inexcusable, especially in these times when the perception that developers can get whatever they want by putting money in the right pockets.

Rightly or wrongly, Duncan is likely to be the target of most of the criticism. Indeed, some elected officials have already made statements condemning the college's actions.

"I was less than charmed that we were misled," said Del. Gail H. Bates, a Republican. "I was not happy. I have been a supporter [of the college], and I went to bat for them on this issue, and it doesn't make me feel good that I was misled."

Bates criticized the Robey plan to buy Belmont as being "more a reaction than a plan."

Republican Del. Warren E. Miller also was unhappy with Duncan.

"I am irritated that we had the hearing down here, and she misrepresented what was going on," he said. "I can see why the people were agitated."

"It's very troubling," added Del. Neil F. Quinter, a Democrat.

(You have to love Bates -- no situation is beyond party politics for her.)

I don't know what, if any, the actual repercussions of this revelation will be. If the story has legs, as they say, it could turn into more than just egg on the face for the college.

Meanwhile, opponents of HCC's Belmont plan, at least, have the right perspective on this.
Cathy Hudson, president of the Save Belmont Coalition, said she would rather move forward and not dwell on the past.

"I don't understand why they kept it hidden," she said of the development plans.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Me thinks the developer got caught with His hands in the cookie jar. The developer in question served on the board of the Community College and He apparently gifted (or loaned?) 1 million dollars to the community college so that He could build on land that is supposdly to be preserved?

As a Howard County citizen I find it disturbing that the President of the Community College would allow herself to be used like this and that She would then cover this up. I also question the County Executives motives - Who is he helping, the neighbors of Belmont? The Community College which can no longer build on the property? or the developer who has given him $1500 in political contributions?

Something really smells about this story, glad to see the Sun reporting on a scandal in local government for a change....