Ehrlich stamp put on panel


Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. appointed three new members to the Maryland Real Estate Commission this month in a move that replaced the panel's chairman and put the governor's stamp on a board that regulates almost 40,000 brokers and agents.

The revamped commission will continue to focus on making the board self-sufficient during a time of record growth in home sales, the new chairman of the nine-member panel said Thursday.

"The special funding [to make the board self-sufficient] is the most important issue the commission has addressed," said Steven VanGrack, the chairman. "We've been very protective of consumer interests, and that will continue."

An Ehrlich spokesman said last week that the governor is supporting a House bill, introduced last week, that would create a fund paid for by agent and broker fees and designated to cover costs of running the commission. It would allow an underfunded commission to set new, and likely higher, fees, based on the costs of existing and expanded services, VanGrack said.

VanGrack, who was vice chairman of the volunteer panel and had served previously as its chairman, was elevated by commission rules after Ehrlich's new appointments were announced. One of Ehrlich's appointments filled the post previously held by Mike Cassell, a real estate broker and appraiser who had been chairman since June.

The owner of Creative Real Estate Services and Express Appraisal Services in Baltimore, Cassell had served on the board since 1999. His term had expired in May, but he stayed on in hopes that Ehrlich would reappoint him.

Cassell said he believes that the governor replaced him because he was more aggressive in championing consumer issues, including his unsuccessful push to require homebuilders to license their salespeople as agents.

"I think it's business as usual to a large degree," Cassell said. "And if you make waves the way that I did, you're going to end up on the outside."

But Elizabeth L. Williams, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation, said it was just part of normal procedures as the new administration makes its appointments. Ehrlich took office last year.

"There is a great interest in serving on all of these boards and commissions from across the state," Williams said. "His term expired as did other members of the board. It really is a matter of standard terms expiring, and people expressing an interest in these positions."

Ehrlich's appointments include: Anne S. Cooke, a 28-year veteran of the industry with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Columbia; Kim Nunnally Williams, a broker who owns Kim Nunnally Realty Inc. in Baltimore and has been licensed since 1985; and Stephen F. Kupres, chief financial officer at RDA Corp., who will serve as one of the four consumer members of the commission.

The appointments are subject to Senate approval, and terms run through 2007.

The new board members fill the terms that expired May 31, previously held by Cassell, Bill Bittner and Roswitha K. Ginter.

Ginter, a Camp Springs insurance company owner who had served for eight years, resigned in October, saying she wanted to give Ehrlich the chance to nominate someone. Bittner, who served on the commission for six years and works for Coldwell Banker in Columbia, served until the governor replaced him this month.

Ehrlich made his first appointment to the board in June, naming Arthur Eisenstein as a consumer member.

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