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Forrence violated county ethics ordinance

James Rada
Emmitsburg Dispatch

(5/1) A member of the Frederick County Planning Commission, accused in the past of trying to protect her parents? property when she was a member of the Emmitsburg Planning Commission, has been found to have violated the county's ethic ordinance for doing much the same thing.

Catherine Forrence was found in violation of the county ethics ordinance because "it seems clear to the Ethics Commission that changing the allowable density on those parcels located so close to the parents' property would nevertheless have a direct financial impact on the value of the property"

The April 18 decision stems from a vote initiated by Forrence and on which she voted to downzone properties on Annandale Road that border her parents? property.

During the summer of 2007 when Forrence was a member of the Emmitsburg Planning and Zoning Commission, member Pat Boyle accused Forrence of violating the town's ethics ordinance. The basis of the accusation was that Forrence recommended shifting development on a parcel that abutted her parents' property away from the shared property without acknowledging that it was her parents? property.

Forrence's actions on the county planning commission caused Frederick County attorney Leslie Powell to write a letter to Forrence asking her to recuse herself from decisions that affect her parents' property. Attorney Krista McGowan and developer Andy Mackintosh brought up the letter during a county planning commission meeting and were chastised by commission members rallying to Forrence's defense.

Commission member Bob White called the letter "inflammatory," "intimidating," "shameful" and "something that ought to be withdrawn and an apology issued."

The ethics commission saw it differently. The commission ruled that because such a decision affects only a limited number of homes, it does "constitute a direct financial impact, as distinguished from the public generally." For the commission to say that there was no direct impact would have been too narrow an interpretation of the ethics ordinance.

Forrence wrote in an e-mail reply to an inquiry from The Dispatch that she doesn't see how there is a direct impact on her parents? property.

?As I told the Ethics Commission, I am simply not aware how any change in the comprehensive land use designation of the EDC property would affect the value of my parents' property "either positively or negatively. Indeed, no one has articulated a direct financial impact on my parents? farm, but instead only alluded to an indirect impact "without even stating what that impact would be," Forrence wrote.

Even if that were true, the Ethics Commission wrote that her vote ?could give the appearance of a conflict of interest under the Ethics Ordinance.?

Because of these things, the Ethics Commission wrote, ?Should a similar situation arise in the future where a discussion or vote would have an impact on a limited number of properties, one or more of which is owned by a close relative of the Planning Commission member, ? the Ethics Commission recommends that the Planning Commission member identify the nature of the potential conflict on the record and then recuse herself from any discussion or vote on that matter."

"I will certainly abide by the conclusion of the Frederick County Ethics Commission," Forrence wrote.

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