Cumberland Times-News

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February 21, 2014

Ethics complaint filed against Garrett County Commission Chairman

OAKLAND — Carol Jacobs, president of Aquatic Center Inc. in McHenry, has filed an ethics complaint with the Garrett County Ethics Commission regarding a potential conflict of interest involving Garrett County Commission Chairman Robert Gatto.

In July, the Garrett County Planning Commission recommended that county commissioners endorse William Meagher’s request to amend the Deep Creek Watershed Zoning Ordinance to add a new category of use for boat rentals not offering any services associated with a marina. The recommendation included certain modifications. Gatto recused himself from a county commission public hearing held in September based on the fact that his company, Gatto Electric, completed electrical work for Meagher, owner of Lakeside Creamery.

Gatto departed the public hearing and didn’t return until after the presentation and all public comments on the zoning amendments were heard, according to Jacobs.

During a county commission meeting Tuesday, Gatto also recused himself from a vote regarding Meagher's request to make several amendments to the zoning ordinance to add a new category of use for boat rental including boat rides and/or boat tours as a separate service business and not offering any other services associated with a marina. Gregan Crawford, commissioner, made a motion to approve Meagher’s request but it died for lack of a second, according to Monty Pagenhardt, county administrator.

“There is no pending proposal for any change to any ordinance,” said Pagenhardt.

However, the county commission did vote to approve the planning commission’s recommendation that several amendments be made to the Table of Dimensional Requirements for Principal Uses in the Deep Creek Watershed Zoning Ordinance, according to Pagenhardt.

Jacobs alleges that Gatto shouldn’t have recommended or voted to separate the amendments because they contain definitive language to help Meagher’s interests by allowing recreational uses in a shopping center, which were not allowed before.

Gatto returned to the meeting Tuesday after recusing himself and voted along with the commissioners to send the matter back to the planning commission for consideration and review of context for potential use as a special exemption. Gatto and Crawford voted in favor of the motion and Jim Raley voted against it.  

Jacobs also alleges that Gatto should not have participated in that vote.

“I would challenge the legitimacy of the commissioners’ vote to refer this back to the planning commission to determine the feasibility of a special exception on the grounds that Gatto was still conflicted and should not have participated,” states Jacobs in her complaint.

Attempts to reach Gatto were unsuccessful.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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