In reviewing the documents provided to me under the Maryland Public Information Act by Queen Anne`s County, a common theme is apparent. I believe the Ashley family has a huge amount of influence in Queen Anne’s County government. I am absolutely certain that the average citizen could not even come close to obtaining the county support the Ashleys have received in selling their property to the Federal Government. I also believe that the Ashleys knew precisely the adverse impacts their neighbors would suffer from the sale. What follows will allow you to determine these things for yourself.
Let’s start with the original notice from the ”United States Federal Government Seek to Acquire Site 29 June 2009” document (Exhibit A). Nowhere in that document is there any mention of the eventual purpose of the site, yet on page 4 in the Ashley response (Exhibit B) the Ashleys point out three of the six farms they are proposing to sell are suitable for shooting ranges. Were they given inside information on the “hard skills” nature of the site? Were their competing responders given the same information the Ashleys had?
This brings us to an interesting email reply (Exhibit C) from Commissioner Paul Gunther dated September 2, 2009, to Gregg Todd at 9:19 pm. Earlier that day, at 5:32 pm, Queen Anne’s County Chief Operating Officer, Gregg Todd, sent all of the commissioners a project summary of the facility planned for the Ashley Hunt-Ray Farm. Mr. Gunther states, “Sidney has talked about this in the past, but the money never came through!! Maybe this time. Paul”. Notice that Mr. Gunther refers to Mr. Ashley by his first name, Sidney, which seems to indicate that they are on a first name basis with each other. Then again, maybe Mr. Gunther knows another Sidney involved with this project.
Exhibit D comprises the September 22, 2009 Project Summary created by county staff about the proposed training facility. These three pages are enlightening in a number of ways. Page one states that the Ashleys contacted the County Attorney, Chris Drummond, about proposed use issues and zoning regulations in early August. If the only information the Ashleys had at that point was the vague information shown in the original government notice (Exhibit A), what possible questions would they have had of Mr. Drummond. One would almost certainly conclude that they knew all about the “Hard Skills” aspects to the training facility shown on page two of Exhibit D.
Now was the information received by the Ashleys from our attorney free of charge or did they pay for his services? If not, I guess any citizen can get free advice from Mr. Drummond.
Looking again at paragraph five of page one (Exhibit D) you see that Queen Anne’s County Employees, Steve Cohoon and Jean Fabi were contributing to the sale of the Ashley property long before our county commissioners knew anything about it. What possible influence could the Ashleys have over those people to obtain their support without the commissioners’ instruction?
Paragraph six of page one (Exhibit D) indicates that the September 1 meeting at the Ashley Hunt-Ray farm was all about bringing the buyers (agents of the State Department and General Services Administration) and sellers (the Ashleys and their real estate agents) together. There is nothing unusual about that occurrence, except perhaps for the incredible amount of county staff present.
I now direct your attention to the sign in sheet (Exhibit E) for the September 1st Buyer/Seller meeting, with the highlighted names of the county employees present. Please keep in mind that the county commissioners had not yet been informed of this land sale (refer back to Exhibit C). You may also want to be mindful that this meeting was planned by county employee, Jean Fabi, back on August 20 (see Exhibit F). Wait, did I forget to mention that county employee, Faith Rossing, determined the guest list for this get-together? (see Exhibit G).
Okay, I don’t know about you but my head is starting to hurt. I simply can’t do this in one story. Hopefully I’ve provided you a pretty good feel (or maybe a bad feeling) for the Ashleys’ considerable influence on our Queen Anne’s County Government.
Wait a minute. Just on more exhibit before I go (Exhibit H). Our county employees actually provided the Buyers and the Sellers with the appraisers for their transaction. So remember, if you want to sell your home or property, don’t forget to include your Queen Anne’s County Employees. I’m sure they will work just as hard for you as they have for the Ashleys. Just remember. Don’t tell the commissioners!
Sveinn C. Storm