Lisanti's DAC comments prompt council spat

One member's decision to speak out during the heated Development Advisory Committee meeting Oct. 17 about Walmart's plans to build in the south Bel Air area has sparked a bit of a fissure in the Harford County Council.

Harford County Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti and Councilman Dion Guthrie, the two Democrats on the seven-member council, criticized Council President Billy Boniface for clarifying to The Aegis that Lisanti's comments at the Oct. 17 DAC meeting did not represent the council's.

At that meeting, which only Guthrie attended, Lisanti testified through her legislative aide about her request for additional consideration of items such as lighting and the overall site design for the highly controversial Walmart store planned for Plumtree Road in Bel Air.

County Council President Billy Boniface called The Aegis that day to clarify that her position had not been vetted by the council and she was not speaking on behalf of the council.

That prompted Lisanti to send the paper a letter to the editor calling Boniface's action "completely irrational" and "pointless."

Lisanti wrote that although the "charter requires the council to act as a body in legislative functions, it does not limit the freedom of expression."

"As an elected official I hold sacred my duty to lead and speak [openly] on public issues facing our community. More importantly as a citizen of a free nation I am obligated to defend liberty without fear of scorn and public reprimand by those in power," she wrote, adding she hopes the incident was simply "an impulsive act or mere understanding."

Guthrie also said Thursday that Boniface's comments were "totally out of hand."

"She [Lisanti's aide] never said Mary Ann was speaking for the council; it was never implied," he continued. "Mary Ann is upset, and I don't blame her."

Guthrie said he has written thousands of letters and spoken at a like number of meetings and events during his 10 years as a council member, and "it's never a situation where you are speaking for the council. You are on your own. You have a right to your opinion, after all. We all do this."

Guthrie said he believes the county council president "sometimes thinks he's more important than the rest of us."

"I'm only one-seventh of the council; Billy is only one-seventh of the council; Mary Ann is only one-seventh," he continued. "Sometimes Billy acts like he's the county executive. There's a substantial difference between the two [positions]."

Boniface, meanwhile, explained that he was prompted to make the clarification by two other council members, whom he would not identify.

"Two of them were concerned that her comments were being portrayed as the opinion of the council and just wanted to clarify that this was not the official position," he said. "I just didn't want there to be any perception that it was coming from the council."

He said if she had a problem with his comments, she should have just called him, but he has not heard from her since last Tuesday and was not aware of the letter sent to The Aegis.

"Normally council members don't go to DAC meetings and make [actions] like that," Boniface said, adding he has no problem with Lisanti speaking.

"Ms. Lisanti is entitled to say whatever she wants. Quite frankly, I don't have a clue what she said that day," he said.

Lisanti's comments had suggested "numerous conditions" for the Walmart project, including eliminating the access road at Bright Oaks Drive, reconfiguring Bel Air South Parkway to create a "safe vehicular and pedestrian linkage," requiring major road and sidewalk improvements at adjacent roads, requiring protection of the view shed by upgrading the building exterior and enhancing the scope of berms, requiring low-impact development that is environmentally sensitive, limiting the impervious surface, requiring security, requiring all lighting to be low-level, requiring all outside storage to be screened and requiring a water feature.

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