County executive candidate Steuart Pittman announced Saturday he will seek an ethics investigation into his opponent’s campaign after a memo on Anne Arundel County letterhead was sent to Crofton residents.
The memo is from County Executive Steve Schuh, who sent it Friday to correct what he called “misinformation” from Pittman’s campaign regarding Schuh’s governing philosophy and the controversial Enclave at Crofton and Two Rivers projects.
Pittman, a Democrat, plans to take his complaint to the Anne Arundel County Ethics Commission on Monday.
“I understand that Steve Schuh needs to defend himself from his record, but doing so on county letterhead, using county lists and county staff, violates the trust of taxpayers and is against the law,” Pittman said. “He has plenty of developer money in his campaign war chest to make his case to voters without taxpayers having to foot the bill.”
Owen McEvoy, Schuh’s county spokesman, Saturday denied that any election rules were broken.
Pittman’s campaign also released other letters from Schuh’s administration that sought to correct the record on different issues related to the Chesapeake Bayhawks proposed project in Crownsville and responding to criticisms from the county police union after it endorsed Pittman. Pittman cited those letters as potential violations as well.
Maryland election rules bar campaigns from using taxpayer funded resources as part of campaign materials. The Republican Schuh has said he has two computers — one for county business and the other for campaign work because of this rule.
Since the memo has the county letterhead, Pittman said it violated those rules.
McEvoy said that notion is “preposterous” even though the memo details Pittman’s campaign comments.
“No political support was asked for and no political contribution was sought,” McEvoy said. “The County sought to address misinformation given to a community group regarding a county approved land use decision. And providing accurate information should never be wrong. Who provided the misinformation is immaterial.”
A spokesman for Schuh’s campaign declined to discuss the memo, saying it was a county issue.
County ethics and election representatives could not be reached Saturday for comment.
The memo is linked to the public debate surrounding the Enclave at Crofton and Two Rivers development projects. Enclave at Crofton is an 83-unit proposed residential site that has drawn the ire of Crofton residents. Two Rivers is a roughly 2,000-home development that started as an age-restricted community but was approved in 2015 to incorporate housing for all ages.
This upset older residents living in the community, but county regulations allow developers to change a project from only 55-and-up on parcels where no homes have been built. The county has to test those sites for adequacy, meaning there is enough school and road capacity to match the impact of the new homes. An amended declaration of covenants and other restrictions that removes the age restriction also has to be approved.
Pittman’s campaign strategy has included criticizing Schuh’s administration for expansive development projects. For the specific projects, Pittman has hit Schuh’s administration for waiving a public hearing on the Enclave at Crofton project and for overseeing the Two Rivers project changing from a 55-and-over community to one with children.
That change put a strain on schools near the project, Pittman said.
Two Rivers is a Koch Homes project, a real-estate business owned by Gary Koch. Koch and related businesses have donated $8,400 to Schuh’s campaign throughout his political career.
Schuh pushed back against Pittman’s claims in the memo. He said the county can’t intervene on legal uses of land that meet zoning rules. Up-zoning by the Crofton Civic Association made development inevitable, Schuh said in the memo.
In July the county denied modification requests from developers on the Enclave project.
“Our administration has worked diligently to pare down the developer’s plans and to address community concerns about ingress and egress, setbacks, intrusion into floodplains and density of the proposed development,” Schuh said in the memo.
As for Two Rivers, Schuh said the subdivisions had already been approved and some homes were complete while others were in construction before his administration took over. There was no legal avenue to stop the development, he said in the memo. He also said the county is in discussions to build a school near the development.
The memo goes on to defend Schuh from Pittman’s attacks regarding his economic philosophy. Pittman has painted Schuh as pro-development, while Schuh attests his administration is pushing for economic and income growth, not growth of residential and commercial developments.